If Americans learned anything from president-elect Donald J. Trump’s press conference Wednesday, it was that the scope of his business enterprises makes it exceedingly difficult for him to separate his personal interests from those of the nation. Trump assured his listeners that they shouldn’t worry about financial conflicts or ethical dilemmas because he was going to step aside and let his sons run the family’s Trump Organization. But while that might mean he won't be making certain corporate decisions, it doesn’t ensure that he won’t craft policies as president designed to increase the worth of his holdings.
Trump made it clear he has no intention of selling off the business or placing it in a true blind trust because, well, it would be hard to do, it would cost him money and besides, federal conflict-of-interest laws don’t require a president to divest, so he won’t. That’s a rather petulant position to take. Trump sought out the presidency amid serious questions by ethics experts over how he would assure the public that he has only one loyalty: to protect and advance the interests of the American people. Unfortunately, he did little to assuage those concerns during the campaign — and wouldn’t even release his tax returns so that voters could understand the extent and nature of the problem.
Under the arrangement laid out by his tax attorney, Sheri Dillon, at Wednesday’s press conference, the president-elect will sign over control of the business to a trust under the care of his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. In addition, the Trump Organization will undertake no new foreign deals, and any new domestic deals will be vetted by an in-house “ethics advisor.” Those deals will occur without Trump’s knowledge or input.
Yet Trump’s conflicts of interest remain. He presumably will continue to receive income from the family business, and non-detailed financial statements of how it is faring. And not only does he already know exactly what the Trump Organization’s current holdings are, both foreign and domestic, but all he needs to do to learn what new deals are in the works is read the newspaper. That means he’ll be aware of how revisions to the tax codes, which he has promised, will affect the family’s real estate and hotel businesses. And whether a change in policies toward the Philippines would affect his existing deals there with businessman Jose Antonio, who was recently appointed Philippine trade envoy to the U.S. To offer just two examples.
Federal policies, existing and future, have untold intersections with the Trump Organization. This is unprecedented territory for the White House, and the nation. But as long as the Trump family stands to gain privately from the public policy decisions of President Trump, the nation will be justifiably skeptical of where their president’s loyalties lie.